Webvan Group could be among the first
few dot-coms to push for unionization, but union activists say
company rules are hurting their efforts.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 120 and 870 and
Teamsters Local 70 have filed unfair labor practice charges against
the Foster City-based online grocer, saying Webvan's policies
restrict organizing at its Oakland warehouse. The charges, filed
with the National Labor Relations Board, seek to change the
company's policies nationwide, which could affect nearly 1,000
Webvan workers want a union contract because they are frequently
switched from day shifts to night shifts and their co-payments for
health insurance increased, said Rich Hedges, a spokesman for the
Union organizers said Webvan prohibits unauthorized gatherings
at work during free time; forbids solicitations on company e-mail;
and does not allow warehouse workers to wear buttons, including
those that support unionization.
Webvan spokesman Bud Grebey countered the company places no
restrictions on employees gathering during their free time.
Grebey said the company can restrict use of e-mail because it is
owned by the company, and that wearing buttons could be a health
and safety threat because warehouse employees handle food and work
with automated equipment.
The NLRB will investigate the charges and decide whether to hold
Hedges said the unions are getting close to filing for an
election, and that they will ask for a vote if more than half of
the 300 workers in the company's San Francisco Bay area operations
Workers from grocers like Safeway joined Webvan with hopes of
cashing in on stock options, said Hedges. Webvan was trading at $25
a share after it went public in November 1999, but has plummeted to
about 44 cents a share.
If Webvan goes the way of many dot-coms recently and shuts down,
workers would have a better chance in bankruptcy court if they have
a union contract, Hedges said.
Workers at etown.com were the first dot-commers to file for a
union vote, which was delayed for six months because the union
filed a complaint with the NLRB. And at Amazon.com, organizers are
trying to establish a union.